THE CRAFT OF WRITING – PART 6
The Craft of Writing – Part 6
What My Horse Taught Me About Character Arcs
by Kay DiBianca
It was a day for speed. A wind-at-your-back, smile-on-your-face day when a youthful gallop overruled frumpy caution, so we barreled down the dirt trail into the park and around a blind turn. As the bushes on our right gave way and the road ahead came into view, a terrifying specter suddenly loomed up in the middle of the trail, no more than fifty yards in front of us.
Dixie, my high-strung, prone-to-panic filly, slammed on the brakes. I had no idea a horse could stop like that. Two stiff-legged hops – thump, thump — to a dead halt.
I went straight over her head. Turns out an English forward seat saddle is particularly ill-suited to sudden deer sightings.
As I was flying through the air, anticipating an unpleasant reacquaintance with the earth, Dixie began some kind of crazy cha-cha in reverse, trying to flee the tiny deer creature. I was still holding on to the reins, however, so she couldn’t turn and run. Instead, she made a determined dart backward, dragging me along in her wake.
You might be wondering why I didn’t just let go of the reins and save myself from a mouthful of dirt and a painful awareness of my sudden change in circumstances. I’ll be honest with you. I would have let my horse drag me into the next county before I allowed her to return riderless to the barn. I have my pride, you know.
Body-surfing down a dirt trail at the whim of a frightened animal is an excellent way to focus one’s mind. I’m older now, but sometimes I still get that urge to gallop furiously into the next adventure, no matter what form it takes. But when I recall that day in the park, the awful taste of grit in my mouth, the look of terror in Dixie’s eyes, and the acrid scent of fear in the air, I pull back the reins on my emotions and proceed at a deliberate trot.
Whether dramatic or not, we each have a set of experiences that have transformed the way we view the world. We all know the characters we write about must change from the beginning of the story to the end, and the change must be meaningful. But how do we accomplish this metamorphosis in a way that will grab our readers?
This is the essence of K.M. Weiland’s Creating Character Arcs. Ms. Weiland argues that structure, plot, and character development are dependent on each other and must work together as an integrated whole to create the novel. She goes on to describe different character arcs and how to create them.
In the “Craft of Writing” blog series, we’ve talked about plot & structure, editing techniques, aids to finding publishing information, and overall outlining techniques. This conversation with K.M. Weiland is an excellent way to gain insight into another part of the writing and publishing world: character development.
K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally published author of acclaimed writing guides, as well as the Gaslamp fantasy Wayfarer, the historical/dieselpunk adventure Storming, the portal fantasy Dreamlander, the medieval epic Behold the Dawn, and the western A Man Called Outlaw. When she’s not making things up, she’s busy mentoring other authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors. She makes her home in western Nebraska.
Welcome, K.M, and thank you for joining us!
How did you get interested in writing?
Stories have always been my mode of interpreting and communicating with the world around me. I made up characters and told myself stories from a very young age, but I didn’t start writing them down until I was about twelve. During high school, I edited and published a small newsletter that featured short stories and informative articles. From there, it was a natural progression to novels.
Stories are like breathing. Life without a story in my head is one-dimensional, stagnant, vapid. I love the life God has given me, but I think I love it better because I’m able to live out so many other lives on the page. I’m more content to be who I am because I’m not trapped in that identity. When I sit down at my computer and put my fingers on the keys, I can be anyone or anything, at any time in history. I write because it’s freedom.
What made you decide to write books on the craft of writing?
I kind of stumbled into it. I was just publishing my first novel and all the marketing gurus were telling writers we needed to have a blog if we were going to build a readership. Like so many other writers, the only thing I felt qualified to blog about was writing. I started chronicling my writing journey as an effort to sell fiction, and it ended up becoming an adventure all its own.
What prompted you to write Creating Character Arcs?
For me, the crystallization of the thematic dichotomy between the Truth and the Lie the Character Believes is what suddenly made the concept of character arc click on an applicable level.
It was while working on Jane Eyre: A Writer’s Digest Annotated Classic and charting Jane’s Positive Change Arc—which is just so perfect and so powerful—that I gelled my own understanding of how inextricable plot and character are from one another. Character arcs and plot structure are intertwined at every beat of the story.
I can’t say it was unexpected, but it was explosively eye-opening. Creating Character Arcs grew out of that experience.
What single piece of advice would you give to new authors?
Find the process that works best for you. Explore and experiment and figure out what best unleashes your creativity. For example, outlines aren’t one size fits all. My outline won’t look anything like someone else’s outline. So just because one outlining approach doesn’t do it for you, don’t give up right away. Play around and see if you can find the right blend of tools and techniques for you.
Besides your own books, what book on the craft of writing would you recommend?
Hmm. It’s hard to narrow them down. I’m going to have to go with three:
- The Anatomy of Story by John Truby.
- Write Away by Elizabeth George
- Story by Robert McKee
The first and the third are aimed more at screenwriters, but their take on structure and story theory are insane. Absolutely insane. (In all the most awesome ways.)
Where can we find out more about you and your work?
I’d love to have you visit me at HelpingWritersBecomeAuthors.com.
Thank you, K.M., for sharing your expertise with us!